July 12th, 2014
I’ve always promised myself that I wouldn’t ever ride motorcycles without a helmet, jacket, gloves and boots. I know it’s not worth the risk to save the little bit of time and energy to put them on. Every time I see somebody flying by on the freeway or cutting in and out of traffic in a city, vulnerably exposed, I think they’re dumb or just don’t care about themselves. Despite how smart I think I am and how much I do care about the integrity of my skull, I find myself riding on the back of a motorcycle through the crazy traffic of Zacatecas wearing none of the above with a random guy I met five minutes ago.
We cut in and out of cars, going up and down the steeply sloped streets avoiding potholes left and right. I hate to admit it, but it feels much better to have the wind blowing through my hair and feel the rush of vulnerability. As stupid as I still think it is, I understand this joy of living fast but know the feeling is temporary.
After some minutes of zigzagging through the maze of the city he pulls over and shuts the engine off. We’re in front of a tiny shop with a sign that reads “Ferretería”.
“Muchas Gracias”. I thank the guy and he just nods back silently. I step into the tiny, greasy, unorganized shop and find the simple washer I need quickly. I thank the kind lady behind the counter, step outside and jump on the bike waiting for me. Neither of us say a word to each other and we take off again into the chaotic world of city traffic.
In a few minutes we’re back at the “workshop” where my disabled bike is being watched over by a guy I just met today too. He’s an ex-boyfriend of one of the family members I was staying with this week and he kindly offered to take a look at my bike when I showed him the horrible sound coming from it this morning. I had already packed up and said my goodbyes to everyone when I started the engine to leave and heard the disturbing clanking noise. The ex-boyfriend, Michel, is a motorcycle mechanic and happened to be there visiting the family while I was on my way out. I was really looking forward to moving on to the next destination but I also don’t want to be stuck in the middle of the desert, so here I am.
I get off the bike and walk over to the disassembled machine. There is a tarp on the floor with bolts, gears, bushings, tools and spilled oil upon it. Michel’s “workshop” consists of a plot of dirt in the open air, lined with old broken down bikes and old parts plus an air compressor tube hanging from the second story window. I look up to the sky and see dark clouds. It has rained everyday since I’ve been here and I want to put this all back together before the clouds let loose on the exposed innards of the bike.
We could have been done long ago with the noise inspection but Michel was in no hurry and spent a lot of time telling me stories. The whole day, I’ve been fighting between wanting to leave in time to make it to my next destination before dark and wanting to hear Michel’s life stories. I’m still getting used to the pace of things here in Mexico and I’m trying to be “tranquilo” as they say.
I’ve been in a number of restaurants and stores waiting several minutes for the waiter or store owner to finish a leisurely conversation with a friend before they would serve me. I have no job or any real time constraints here yet I still find myself anxious in these situations. It provokes the internal battle in my head of productivity vs. patience; wanting to get the most out of my day, experience the most things, and create versus being present, remaining calm, and adapting my internal clock to the goings-on of the world around me.
At this point in the day it’s already too late to try to make it to the town of Real de Catorce up in the mountains about five hours from here. This fact puts me at ease. There is no amount of hurrying that will change my situation now. I accept that I wasn’t meant to leave Zacatecas today and slow down to Michel’s pace. As we put all the pieces back together we chat leisurely about motorcycles, the state of things in Mexico, my current motorcycle trip, and his desire to travel.
He told me of the troubles of his own life, dealing with alcohol and drugs, having kids at a young age, never having money. His lip quivers whenever he speaks as if he’s always afraid. He tells me he’s always wanted to do what I’m doing, traveling by motorcycle, but that he doesn’t think he could. The positive motivator side of me wants to tell him something cheesy like that “it’s never too late” but I just listen instead. I know from hearing inspirational stories of people accomplishing their goals in all stages of life that it’s possible but there is also a reality to things.
So many people will die, never having done the things that they always wanted to do. To some, it’s not worth the strain or uncomfort that living out any ideal will surely bring. To an extent, I understand; there are many things I would like to do too but have to admit that the level of difficulty to accomplish them would take up so much time and effort that it wouldn’t be worth it. In the end, I have to be realistic about what is possible and pick and choose.
Everyone has different physical, mental and environmental limitations. I come from a different country with different opportunities, was raised in a different setting and have different tendencies so who would I be to try to encourage him? Not that he couldn’t do it, but unrealistic encouragement would probably do more harm than good. To construct goals that will surely not be reached is setting up a habit of failure that the brain learns from with each unattained accomplishment to the point where goals are automatically associated with defeat.
Everybody’s personal goals are relative and what may be easy for someone is challenging for another. Traveling 100 miles is just as big as an accomplishment for somebody else as traveling to south america is for me. The importance is not in how objectively big a goal is, but how big it is for the individual. We are all puny in this world and our solar system, galaxy or universe don’t care about what we accomplish or not. When the sun explodes and fries the earth to a crisp, inventions, cures, and creations will mean nothing. The only thing that means anything is how we feel personally and how we make others feel.
I don’t know what to say to Michel. I can see and feel that he is suffering and looks to alcohol these days to curb reality. There are so many thoughts swirling in my brain and I end up saying nothing. I just hope that he does what he needs to do to feel good. I hope that just me thinking positive thoughts sends a subtle energy to him, and that somehow he is given strength in a quantum physical sort of way I wouldn’t be able to comprehend. I realize it’s important for me to get over my impatient anxiety about trying to leave earlier so I can be as present with Michel in this moment. Maybe things are just as simple as that, that just being present with one another can be healing.
We put the last bolts on the bike and I hope that tightening the cam chain tensioner was enough to fix the anxiety-causing sounds. I start the engine and it sounds fine but I won’t really know until after putting some miles on it. If only things were as simple as fixing a motorcycle; you try something and see if it worked, cut and dry. I probably will never see Michel again after this and who knows how things will turn out for him. I can philosophize and theorize to my analytical mind’s content but can never know, just feel.
I think about the small and easily attainable goal I set for myself of being consistent about using motorcycles safely and how I broke that chain today. My anxious, impatient mind managed to defeat a deeper love and care for myself. What is seemingly an unimportant act of laziness by not wearing the proper gear could possibly start a chain of habits that could ultimately lead to my own demise. It was not only important for me to be present with Michel today for his sake, but for my own too. He has been a mirror for me, where, although our struggles may differ in magnitude, I can identify with the inner conflicts of a fellow human and grow from that interaction.
I thank the threatening sky for giving us the chance to fix the bike and have time to converse. I’m thankful that tomorrow is another chance to fix the chain I broke, to make up for the lost battle in my brain…